Photograph: Andrew Harnik / AP
Leading Republicans in Congress embark on a new campaign of revisionism seven months after the Capitol bombing, absolving Donald Trump of responsibility and blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the mob-perpetrated January 6 insurgency of Trump supporters.
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Some Republican House and Senate leaders said in the accused moments immediately after the attack that Trump was squarely to blame, and amidst the blood and broken glass on the U.S. Capitol, some even considered his impeachment.
“The president bears the responsibility,” Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy said of Trump at the time, demanding that he “accept his share of responsibility.”
But after nearly 200 House Republicans voted to exonerate Trump in his unprecedented second impeachment and Senate Republicans scuttled a 9/11-style commission to investigate the events of January 6, the Republican Party called to put all blame on Trump.
The decision to shield Trump from the fallout from the attack on Capitol Hill, at all costs, reflects the loyalty of party leaders to a defeated former president, as well as the political interest of Republicans desperate to distance themselves from an insurgency they have helped stir up lies of a stolen election.
The Republicans’ journey into an alternate fact universe became virtually over last week after the Republican House leadership, days after heartbreaking testimony from police officers deployed to fight rioters once again shocked Congress, weaves another lie about the murderous attack.
No longer content to simply forgive Trump for instigating his supporters to illegally stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, House Republican No.3 Elise Stefanik blamed Pelosi – a mob target – for the violence of January 6.
“The American people deserve to know the truth: that Nancy Pelosi bear the responsibility, as Speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on January 6,” Stefanik said falsely from the steps of the Capitol.
Pelosi is not responsible for security – a duty incumbent on the United States Capitol Police – but the baseless claim made by Stefanik amounted to the party leadership’s latest disinformation campaign that it hopes – it will give them political cover as the 2022 midterm elections approach.
Republicans are deeply concerned that any scrutiny through January 6 will reveal their role in amplifying Trump’s lies about 2020 election fraud – the root cause of the insurgency – which could be used as a stick by the Democrats at the polls.
Some Republicans in Congress privately acknowledge the spurious logic of blaming Pelosi for the attack on Capitol Hill, but not Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, his then Senate counterpart.
But in a sign of the ambition and self-preservation that guides Republican revisionism in the attack on Capitol Hill, they also suggest that they are prepared for McCarthy to bow to Trump’s claims if it helps them. Republicans to take over the House. And with Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, promising to subpoena anyone who spoke with Trump on January 6, they note that a counter-narrative has the added effect of undermining the politically murderous investigation.
Revisionism on the Capitol Attack heralds what some pundits see as a dangerous new era in American politics: Even with Trump out of the White House, Republicans are advancing patently bogus narratives to protect their political survival.
“The GOP believes that enough time has passed to somehow rewrite the history of events,” said Fiona Hill, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and former White House expert on Russia who testified at Trump’s first impeachment inquiry.
“They hope this gets on the record, even though it is pointed out that it does not match the facts, because once their version is released to the media, that is enough for it to become the raw material to shape how the story goes. ‘story tells it later,’ Hill said.
In the days following the attack, McCarthy joined Democrats in condemning Trump and urging Congress to establish a commission of inquiry, having previously called the former president and demanded he quash his rioters.
McCarthy at one point even checked the facts of the former president. “Some say the riots were caused by Antifa. There is absolutely no proof of that, ”he said on the floor of the House. “The Conservatives should be the first to say this.
But that initial resolution was quickly replaced by a renewed loyalty to Trump, who demanded that Pelosi “investigate herself,” as he again mistakenly suggested that it was Antifa, rather than his own supporters, who had perpetrated the crime. the attack on the Capitol.
Republicans got hold of this message, but neither did McCarthy, who repeated Trump’s debunked claims and traveled to Mar-a-Lago to be loved by Trump, whose support he considers essential for his ambitions to become president in 2022.
Such efforts to appease Trump took on added significance last week for McCarthy, after he withdrew his five picks for the House select committee in a moment of frustration and inadvertently left Trump without defenders on the panel.
And as two officers from the United States Capitol and two officers from the DC Metropolitan Police, testified for hours before the select committee about how Trump, described as a “hitman,” sent his supporters to attack the Capitol, an alarmed McCarthy decided to shift pressure from Trump to Pelosi. .
“If there is any responsibility for this Capitol, on this side, it lies with the President,” McCarthy said.
Stefanik, who replaced Liz Cheney as Republican conference chair after his ouster in May for targeting too often Trump’s conduct and rhetoric, went further and proclaimed that the Speaker of the House was in fact to blame for the insurgency.
The Republican House leadership’s political calculus first extended last week to McConnell – once fiercely critical of Trump for his role in inciting the insurgency, but now content to avoid the topic that ‘he considers a political loser.
Hill told the Guardian that Republican revisionism mirrors the playbook embraced by Russian President Vladimir Putin and a range of other autocratic leaders who need to clean up their roles in politically embarrassing events.
It’s a scam job, a scam, purely about trying to keep their own power
“You can see this over and over again in just about any authoritarian setting,” Hill said. “This is fundamentally not about politics. It is nothing more than a huge scam job, a scam, concocted to keep their own personal and collective power. There is no end apart from that.
This is a disinformation effort also co-opted by grassroots Republicans, who have increasingly tried to rewrite the reality of what happened on January 6, claiming that no rioters were armed. (at least one was), to compare the attack to a “normal tourist visit”.
Standing outside the Justice Department last week, a group of Trump’s most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill denounced the charges against nearly 600 rioters on Capitol Hill and accused prosecutors of holding them as political prisoners.
Urged on by Trump, lawmakers falsely branded Ashli Babbitt, an insurgent who was shot and killed as she attempted to enter a secure area of the Capitol adjacent to the House chamber, as a patriotic martyr whose death was planned by the Democrats.
The fiction pushed by Stefanik drew a rebuke from at least one Republican. “All Donald Trump needs to see is you make a defense no matter how absurd that defense is,” Congressman Adam Kinzinger said on ABC, but not before members of his own party did not ask for his expulsion.